Families: 'Is it safe for us to tuck into fresh seafood in Venice?'


Q. We have booked a city break in Venice for our family and are looking forward to tucking into fresh seafood.

Q. We have booked a city break in Venice for our family and are looking forward to tucking into fresh seafood. However, friends have warned us that the pollution of the lagoon can enter the food chain and so we should be careful about what we eat. How can we safeguard against this?
Mrs S Higgins, via e-mail

A. Fresh seafood is, of course, a treat, but there are some precautions that you should bear in mind. Seafood is very much part of the Italian diet - restaurants often offer a large bowl of seafood salad containing squid, clams and other shellfish as a starter. Sea urchins, mussels, and even razor shells are also served raw, especially in the southern Adriatic, and local supermarkets occasionally have a tank of live lobsters and eels for customers to choose from.

Despite being seafood lovers, most Italians wouldn't, however, eat it more than 5km from the sea. People who live in Rome, for example, would drive to the coast to a fish restaurant but wouldn't risk it on the eastern side of the capital.

Seafood is likely to be unsafe unless it is fresh and has come from clean water. The sea has a tremendous capacity for cleaning itself, especially if any polluted area is regularly and thoroughly mixed and flushed with unpolluted waters. The whole of the Mediterranean suffers from being overused as a waste-disposal unit, though, and that capacity to self-clean is under stress; lagoons and narrow-necked bays are the worst off, especially if sewers discharge into them. The problem is that it is difficult to be sure about the origins of your meal. I would certainly hope that creatures that have lived in the Venice lagoon wouldn't arrive on your plate.

Italians are very health conscious - not least because there has been a cholera epidemic in Naples within living memory. Clearly you will be reassured if you have seen your supper swimming around in a tank of water before it is taken off into the kitchen, but many children (and some adults) are upset at interacting with their meal before it is cooked.

Many sea creatures feed by filtering minute particles of food and other detritus out of their watery environment, and this filtration process tends to concentrate pollutants, including bacteria of unsavoury origins. Gourmets will not welcome a description of exactly what shellfish collect, but, suffice to say, the accumulation can lead to food poisoning in a variety of forms, and filter-feeding shellfish are the most likely source of problems. Diseases including cholera and hepatitis A can be acquired from raw or lightly cooked shellfish.

Fortunately, however, proper cooking kills most of the microbes that cause gastroenteritis; and cholera and hepatitis are destroyed by boiling for just 60 seconds. Even so, consider being immunised against hepatitis A; it is a good vaccine that gives 10 years' cover and is available on the NHS from your GP.

Simple gastroenteritis is a bother but usually settles within 48 hours (Dioralyte or other oral rehydration salts are worth packing), but with increasing pollution of the seas there are more cases of poisoning from shellfish toxins. The most bizarre is called ciguatera. In common with many shellfish-associated poisonings, its symptoms usually start with vomiting, watery diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, but these settle within 24-48 hours.

Drinking plenty of clear fluids is the treatment at this stage and, especially if the victim is a child, oral rehydration salts are probably the best solution.

In addition to these early symptoms, ciguatera also causes some strange sensations, including numbness and tingling of the lips and extremities, tooth pain or a sensation of loose teeth and, weirdest of all, a reversal of sensation in which cold objects burn when touched and hot objects feel cold. Most cases of ciguatera were first reported in the Tropics and the symptoms were so bizarre that victims were diagnosed as malingerers; sufferers must have been upset at being classified thus since symptoms can persist for many weeks. The best treatment is prevention; the toxin is accumulated in the viscera of fish and is more likely in large fish (more than 2.5kg) and in fish caught during red tides or other freak maritime events. Ensure that yours look fresh before cooking if you can.

Finally, it is worth highlighting that many unfamiliar kinds of fish are on offer in restaurants in Italy and they usually contain lots of bones; these can trouble children if they are used to bone-free fish fingers.

Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth is co-author of 'Your Child Abroad: A Travel Health Guide' (Bradt). She works as a GP and at a travel clinic, www.travelcliniccambridge.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before